“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Part of this passage may be familiar to many of you, but what about the part about the serpents? Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and makes a reference to himself as being like the serpent that Moses lifted up. If we go back to Numbers, we see that, because Moses had led everyone on a long detour through the wilderness, “the people grew impatient and spoke against God and against Moses” (Numbers 21:5). God then sends deadly snakes, which end up killing many of the Israelites. The people realize they probably shouldn’t have spoken against God, so they ask Moses for help, and after praying for the people, Moses is instructed by God to build a snake and put it up on a pole. The people who have been bitten by these snakes are then told to look at the bronze snake on the pole and this will then save them from dying.
What is interesting is this same bronze snake appears in 2 Kings 18:4, where King Hezekiah smashes the snake into pieces because the Israelites had come to worship it as an idol. When Jesus draws a connection between himself and this bronze snake, it’s interesting that the snake enabled those who saw it to live… and then later on, the snake itself was broken into pieces. The parallels with Jesus are pretty clear, don’t you think?
I think it’s interesting how this bronze snake came to be idolized. The snake itself probably wasn’t anything special, but following God’s commands was what mattered. I think we humans have a tendency to “idolize” things and put greater emphasis on what feels important, but is actually not. After Jesus was resurrected, there was no body left behind to be venerated, even though many have claimed to have sacred relics. A small part of me wishes I could physically touch one of Jesus’ sandals and feel a connection to God, but it just doesn’t work that way. God is already here in the wilderness with us, and we need nothing more than to look to the cross to find him.